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Learn about uranium decay


Uranium is a trace element that occurs naturally in the earth's crust. Uranium is the first element in a long series of decay that produces radium and radon. Uranium is referred to as the parent element, and radium and radon are called daughters. Radium and radon also form daughter elements as they decay. Radioactive decay is a natural, spontaneous process in which an atom of one element decays or breaks down to form another element by losing atomic particles (protons, neutrons, or electrons). The decay of each radioactive element occurs at a very specific rate. How fast an element decays is measured in terms of the element "half-life," or the amount of time for one half of a given amount of the element to decay. Uranium has a half-life of 4.4 billion years, so a 4.4-billion-year-old rock has only half of the uranium it originally had. The half-life of radon is only 3.8 days. If a jar was filled with radon, in 3.8 days only half of the radon would be left. But the newly made daughter products of radon would also be in the jar, including polonium, bismuth, and lead. Polonium is also radioactive - it is this element, which is produced by radon.


Radon is a product of the radioactive decay of the element radium. When solid radium decays to form radon gas, it loses two protons and two neutrons. These two protons and two neutrons are called an alpha particle, which is a type of radiation. The elements that produce radiation are called radioactive. Radon itself is radioactive because it also decays, losing an alpha particle and forming the element polonium.

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How uranium decay is used as a science tool

Coastal groundwater discharge

Geologic age dating

Spectral gamma logging


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Tags: Radon, Time, Decay, Element, Polonium, Radioactivity, Uranium, Geologic Time